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Global Carbon Emissions Reached Record High in 2018
Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions hit a record high in 2018, the latest report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) found. Emissions rose 1.7 percent to reach a historic 33.1 gigatons (Gt) of carbon dioxide. It was the highest rate of emissions growth since 2013 and 70 percent higher than the average increase since 2010.
The record emissions were caused by increasing energy demand due partly to a growing economy. Ironically, climate change also played a role in sending more global warming gasses into the atmosphere. That is because nearly a fifth of the increased energy demand was driven by extreme cold and hot temperatures around the world that led people to rely more on heating and cooling systems.
"It seems like a vicious cycle," IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol told The Financial Times. "Heating and cooling are one of the biggest drivers of energy demand growth."
Overall, energy consumption increased by 2.3 percent, almost two times the average growth rate since 2010. While renewable energy grew, it did not grow fast enough to meet the increased demand. Nearly 70 percent of the growth was met by fossil fuels.
"[D]espite major growth in renewables, global emissions are still rising, demonstrating once again that more urgent action is needed on all fronts," Birol said, according to Reuters.
One of the most alarming findings was the persistent use of coal, the report found:
In fact, coal-fired power plants were the single largest contributor to the growth in emissions observed in 2018, with an increase of 2.9%, or 280 Mt, compared with 2017 levels, exceeding 10 Gt for the first time.
Further, the IEA calculated the contribution of fossil fuels to global temperature increases for the first time and found that coal had been responsible for more than 0.3 degrees Celsius of the one degree Celsius rise in global temperatures since pre-industrial times, making it the fuel that has most contributed to global warming.
"We are in deep trouble," Stanford University Earth System Science Prof. Rob Jackson told The Washington Post of the report. "The climate consequences are catastrophic. I don't use any word like that very often. But we are headed for disaster, and nobody seems to be able to slow things down."
The rise in coal use was mostly driven by newer coal plants in Asia. These plants average 12 years old compared to a typical life-span for coal plants of 40 years. However, the U.S. saw the greatest increase in demand for oil and natural gas compared to the rest of the world.
In general, the U.S., China and India were the leaders both in terms of energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions. The three countries accounted for almost 70 percent of the increased energy demand and contributed 85 percent to the rise in emissions. India's emissions rose by 4.8 percent and China's by 2.5 percent. In the U.S. emissions rose by 3.1 percent despite decreasing the year before. Emissions fell in Germany, Japan, Mexico, France and the United Kingdom.
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By Will Sarni
It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.
The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future
We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.
"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.
One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.
Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.
Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.
These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.
We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).
We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.
We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.
Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.
Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.
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